OTTAWA—A global torch relay to highlight the Chinese regime's worsening human rights abuses prior to the Beijing Olympics met with a warm welcome in Canada's capital on May 14.
Elected officials, NGOs, democracy and human rights activists, persecuted groups, local musicians, and concerned supporters rallied on Parliament Hill to receive the ceremonial arrival of the Global Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR).
Initiated by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (CIPFG), the HRTR is a global grassroots campaign to press for an end to human rights atrocities in China before the Olympics in August.
Nearly 20 speakers addressed the crowd. Many at the rally were wearing HRTR T-shirts and holding signs calling on the Chinese regime to stop abuses against its own people, who include Tibetans, Uyghurs, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, journalists, lawyers, democracy and human rights advocates and other groups.
"We must use the Olympics to shine the Olympic Torch on the human rights violations in China," said Winnipeg-based international human rights lawyer David Matas.
Mr. Matas pointed out that the Chinese government promised to improve human rights if awarded the Olympics, but "that has not happened, and we must do what we can to make that promise real."
MP Scott Reid, chair of the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights, noted the importance of supporting "those who share the values that [Canadians] share: of decency, openness, and respect for human rights."
Those being persecuted are all citizens of China who have significant rights under UN conventions and the Chinese constitution, he said, but their human rights are "repeatedly and systematically violated by the Chinese government."
"The Chinese government does not represent China when it does this…it represents the antithesis of everything that China stands for," said Mr. Reid.
Moment of Silence
The rally was co-organized by CIPFG, Canadian Friends of Burma, Canadian Friends of Sudan (CFS), B'nai Brith Canada, and Canadian Coalition for Democracies (CCD).
The relay "also provides an opportunity to expose the regime's support of rogue regimes that slaughter their own citizens, including Sudan (Darfur), Burma, Zimbabwe, and North Korea," said the Ottawa event's news release.
The afternoon event began with a 2.5-kilometre torch run from the Chinese embassy to the Human Rights Monument outside Ottawa City Hall and then to Parliament Hill. About 30 supporters and representatives of persecuted groups in China participated in the run. Hon. David Kiglour, Canadian Ambassador of Humanity for the HRTR and former Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, led the first leg of the run starting from the Chinese embassy. MP Hon. Keith Martin and CFS president Justin Laku also led different legs of the run.
In addition to Mr. Reid and Mr. Martin, the cross-party group of MPs who attended the event included MPs Bill Siksay, Rob Anders, Catherine Bell, and Hon. Larry Bagnell.
Mr. Kiglour, who co-hosted the rally with CIPFG's Ottawa representative Pam McLennan, began the ceremony by asking rally participants to observe a moment of silence for the victims of the recent cyclone disaster in Burma and the devastating earthquake in Sichuan, China.
Several of the speakers ceremoniously held torches as did two young women adorned as Olympian goddesses.
The Jewish people have all too often faced persecution alone, said Michael Mostyn, Director of Government Relations of B'nai Brith Canada. That is why his organization "stands in solidarity with all the victims of Chinese oppression around the world," he said.
"In China, any belief that is not officially endorsed by the government is repressed, often brutally," he said, noting that Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil from the Uyghur Muslim community is still imprisoned in China.
Mr. Siksay said that Canadians "must not allow our economic interest or concerns for trade opportunities to trump our concerns about human rights." Occasions like the Olympics are important, he said, but "we must ensure our participation is measured and not exploited to goals contrary to our values and the values of such occasions."
Mr. Bagnell, chair of Parliamentary Friends of Burma, spoke of Beijing's support of the "cruel dictatorship that has done so much to suppress human rights in Burma."
Noting that the Chinese regime funds and arms the Sudanese government-supported Janjaweed militia that is committing genocide in Darfur, Mr. Laku urged "people of any colour to come into solidarity to fight this evil government of China."
Naresh Raghubeer, executive director of CCD, said the "One China" policy prohibits Canada from speaking "vocally and strongly." Calling the regime "a serial abuser," he said "unless we can honour those that don't have a voice under the Chinese regime, we will not see change."
Li Xun, president of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, spoke of the persecution of Falun Gong. The estimated 100 million practitioners of the spiritual practice have experienced an unprecedented level of persecution by the communist regime since 1999.
In his March 2006 report, UN Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak stated that 66 per cent of victims of alleged torture in China were Falun Gong practitioners.
The U.S. State Department's human rights report on China released in March 2008 stated, "Some foreign observers estimated that Falun Gong adherents constituted at least half of the 250,000 officially recorded inmates in reeducation-through-labor camps."
Mr. Kilgour and Mr. Matas published reports in 2006 and 2007 providing compelling evidence that the regime has harvested and sold the organs from tens of thousands of imprisoned Falun Gong prisoners of conscience since 2001.
In their recently published annual reports, Nowak and UN Special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir reiterated their request to the Chinese regime to explain the organ harvesting allegations.
Other speakers included David Harris, president of Democracy House; Brian McAdam, a director of China Insight Research Society; and Democracy Watch Coordinator Duff Conacher.
Mr. Kilgour also invited rally attendee Rabih Kassis to speak in support of the Tibetan people. The youngest speaker was 17-year-old Stephanie Perry from Nepean High School, one of the two young women representing Grecian goddesses, who gave a speech on behalf of the group "Youth Reaching Out."
Local musicians Steve Grove, Carlton Howard, Olivia Santos, and Chance Parkes performed in support of human rights, as did Caroline Addison, Jason Fryer, and Tom from the band River City Junction. Mr. Parkes wrote the song "Freedom Fighter" for the HRTR event.
'A Beacon of Hope'
Mr. Martin called the Human Rights Torch "a beacon of hope for those who do not have a voice."
Each time an Olympics has been held in a totalitarian state, history has seen the eventual collapse of those regimes, noted Mr. McAdam. This happened after the Olympics in Berlin in 1936, Moscow in 1980, as well as Korea in 1988. Mr. McAdam expressed hope that "one day the 2008 Olympic Torch will work its magic again to become the impetus for China's transition to democracy."
"If we do not stand together to protect and help those in need, then what is the point of freedom?" said Ms. Perry. "We are here today because we can and will change the way people are being treated by the Chinese government," she said.
"We are not being political by moving forward human rights in the context of the Olympics," said Mr. Matas, "because human rights is above politics. Human rights stands for universal values."
"What we're dealing with in China is a violation of the fundamental principles of humanity. We must use every occasion to protest the violations of these principles. If we do not do that, we cease to be human."
The HRTR calls on China to release all prisoners of conscience, "hundreds of thousands of them," and to stop its support of corrupt regimes in Burma and Sudan.
Beginning in Athens last August, the HRTR has since visited an estimated 150 cities in about 40 countries on five continents, including 10 cities in Canada this month. Ottawa is the fifth stop after Halifax, Quebec City, Winnipeg, and Montreal. The relay will continue on to Toronto, Kingston, Calgary, and Edmonton, making its last Canadian stop in Vancouver on May 25. For more information, please visit www.humanrightstorch.org .